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Ivory Coast Direct Dialogue Takes Slow Approach

Warring sides in divided Ivory Coast are working on proposals at talks in Burkina Faso to end a stalemate in the implementation of successive peace deals. But as VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar, mediators are taking a slow approach to what is being called direct dialogue.

When Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo called for direct dialogue with rebels late last year and the rebels accepted, many Ivorians hoped there would soon be direct meetings between Mr. Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro.

But instead the approach has taken on the form of a mediation attempt by Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, the current head of the West Africa grouping known as ECOWAS.

Successive African and French officials have made some progress while mediating the Ivory Coast situation since late 2002, but the world's leading cocoa producer remains divided in two, millions of Ivorians remain undocumented, U.N. Security Council resolutions are ignored, and preparations are not being made for twice-delayed elections.

Mr. Gbagbo and Soro did not even show up for the opening of the new talks.

But Burkina Faso's foreign minister, Youssouf Ouedraogo, tells VOA the new approach can work.

"The ECOWAS chairperson can be a way to find a new solution because in the crisis of Cote d'Ivoire we have to find now a new solution," he said. "We call it political direct dialogue between the president Gbagbo's side and Soro side so we think that maybe it can be a way to find a solution to the global problem."

For now, delegations for Mr. Gbagbo and Soro have split in separate groups, preparing for possible direct dialogue.

They are to present their proposals for new solutions by the end of the week.

The Burkinabe foreign minister, Youssouf Ouedraogo, warns this could take time.

"It is a beginning," he said. "We hope that in the days coming, the president [of Burkina Faso] will receive the documents, the proposal documents of both sides, talking about what we think we can find solutions about identification, the organization of all the processes of election including the DDR [disarmament process], and so the president [of Burkina Faso] can now make a proposal, a global political proposal of solutions, but we have to wait."

Mr. Compaore has been praised for recently helping ease tensions between opposition supporters, the government, and the army in nearby Togo.

There have been growing protests in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan. This week, workers at the Supreme Court started a strike asking for higher salaries, while recent army recruits issued a 48-hour ultimatum to have their allowances paid.